Possessing and acting upon virtue is what makes one moral, and one’s actions are a mere reflection of ones inner morality. Moral activity—that is, attempts to practice the virtue—can provide the resources that allow people to change their own societies. The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” of the morality of human acts.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” author=”Dietrich Bonhoeffer”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The aim of morality is to give people a standard of action and a motive to work by which, they will not intensify each person’s selfishness, but raise them up above it.” author=”Cecil J. Sharpe”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Seven blunders of the world that lead to violence: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle.” author=”Mahatma Gandhi”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we make ourselves happy, but how we make ourselves worthy of happiness.” author=”Kant”/]
The Teaching of Moral Standards
By Brian Orchard
As moral standards in society have come under attack, there has been a predictable two-pronged reaction. First, those who believe that morality has no fixed basis of validity rejoice as barriers and social taboos are broken down. Second, those who believe that society without clear moral underpinnings will disintegrate are alarmed by discernible trends in this direction. One group sees “progress” while the other sees society in a downhill slide.
There is also an accompanying dual reaction. The progressives tend to support the dominant role of our schools in influencing morality, while those more inclined to hold on to traditional values see the family as the vehicle of choice for the transmission of moral standards. The trend over the past half century has definitely favored the progressives. The school system has not only changed with the times in regard to the teaching of morality, but has openly advocated a more moral relativistic approach to students. Most of us are familiar with issues such as feminism, homosexuality and behavioral diversity becoming part of curriculums. Regardless of one’s personal stand on these issues, it must be admitted they do represent a departure from previously held societal values. And the transmission of these new values by a source outside of the home also represents a departure from the previous norm. Now, however a new situation is drawing attention.
Many teachers are now decrying the absence of parental training in the children they are called upon to teach. They say that children are no longer learning moral values at home, and that the lack of discipline is making the classroom an unruly place where teaching anything is becoming more difficult.
International educator Philip Parkin at a recent conference says, “I’m making no judgment on this, but the focus on the primacy of the individual, rather than community; the changing pattern of family structures; the shortening of the length of many relationships; the creation of many more step families; the emphasis on parents going out to work and the consequent perception of the reduced value and worth of the full-time parent have all changed the way we behave.”
Are we now in a time when those children who have been reared in the moral relativity of the educational system are now producing offspring who are taking moral relativity to new levels? Are we seeing cause and effect? It cannot be denied that moral values are not being taught in many homes as they used to be, but is this not the result of previous conditioning? Maybe it is time to rethink who has the primary responsibility to teach moral values.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practice, and another which we practice but seldom preach.” author=”Bertrand Russell”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Compassion is the basis of morality.” author=”Arthur Schopenhauer”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”In his address of 19 September 1796, given as he prepared to leave office, President George Washington spoke about the importance of morality to the country’s well-being: Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports…. And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion…. Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its virtue?” author=”George Washington”/]
Morality (from the Latin moralitas “manner, character, proper behavior”) is a sense of behavioral conduct that differentiates intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good (or right) and bad (or wrong). A moral code is a system of morality (for example, according to a particular philosophy, religion, culture, etc.) and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code. Immorality is the active opposition to morality, while amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any set of moral standards or principles.
Morality has two principal meanings:
In its “descriptive” sense, morality refers to personal or cultural values, codes of conduct or social mores that distinguish between right and wrong in the human society. Describing morality in this way is not making a claim about what is objectively right or wrong, but only referring to what is considered right or wrong by an individual or some group of people (such as a religion). This sense of the term is addressed by descriptive ethics.
In its “normative” sense, morality refers directly to what is right and wrong, regardless of what specific individuals think. It could be defined as the conduct of the ideal “moral” person in a certain situation. This usage of the term is characterized by “definitive” statements such as “That act is immoral” rather than descriptive ones such as “Many believe that act is immoral.” It is often challenged by moral nihilism, which rejects the existence of any moral truths, and supported by moral realism, which supports the existence of moral truths. The normative usage of the term “morality” is addressed by normative ethics.
Ethics (also known as moral philosophy) is the branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality.
The word ‘ethics’ is “commonly used interchangeably with ‘morality’ to mean the subject matter of this study; and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group, or individual.” Likewise, certain types of ethical theories, especially deontological ethics, sometimes distinguish between ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’: “Although the morality of people and their ethics amounts to the same thing, there is a usage that restricts morality to systems such as that of Kant, based on notions such as duty, obligation, and principles of conduct, reserving ethics for the more Aristotelian approach to practical reasoning, based on the notion of a virtue, and generally avoiding the separation ‘moral’ considerations from other practical considerations.”
Peterson and Seligman approach the anthropological view looking across cultures, geo-cultural areas and across millennia. They conclude that certain virtues have prevailed in all cultures they examined. The major virtues they identified include wisdom / knowledge; courage; humanity; justice; temperance; and transcendence. Each of these includes several divisions. For instance humanity includes love, kindness, and social intelligence.
Morality and Religion
Many religions provide moral guidelines for their followers. They believe that the divine has instructed them with a way to live and that following these rules will lead to good social structure, and closer communion with the divine. Some religious communities see the Divine as providing these principles through revelation, sometimes in great detail. Such codes may be called laws, as in the Law of Moses, or community morality may be defined through commentary on the texts of revelation, as in Islamic law. Such codes are distinguished from legal or judicial right, including civil rights, which are based on the accumulated traditions, decrees and legislation of a political authority, though these latter often invoke the authority of the moral law.
Morality can also be seen as the collection of beliefs as to what constitutes a good life. Since throughout most of human history, religions have provided both visions and regulations for an ideal life, morality is often confused with religious precepts. In secular communities, lifestyle choices, which represent an individual’s conception of the good life, are often discussed in terms of “morality.” Individuals sometimes feel that making an appropriate lifestyle choice invokes a true morality, and that accepted codes of conduct within their chosen community are fundamentally moral, even when such codes deviate from more general social principles.
Moral codes are often complex definitions of moral and immoral that are based upon well-defined value systems. Although some people might think that a moral code is simple, rarely is there anything simple about one’s values, ethics, etc. or, for that matter, the judgment of those of others. The difficulty lies in the fact that morals are often part of a religion and more often than not about culture codes. Sometimes, moral codes give way to legal codes, which couple penalties or corrective actions with particular practices. Note that while many legal codes are merely built on a foundation of religious and/or cultural moral codes, often they are one and the same.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”If ignorance and passion are the foes of popular morality, it must be confessed that moral indifference is the malady of the cultivated classes. The modern separation of enlightenment and virtue, of thought and conscience, of the intellectual aristocracy from the honest and common crowd is the greatest danger that can threaten liberty.” author=”Henri Frédéric Amiel”/]
Common Morality (ours) vs. Personal Morality (yours)
We can talk about Virtue all day long, but if we aren’t able to personify some of those virtues and make them a part of our personal morality, we are wasting our breath. This life of ours is like a pilgrimage in the wilderness. Our value system, our sense of personal ethics, our “personal morality” is the compass that helps us navigate the crazy world that we live in, those uncharted hills of America that are filled with hedonism, materialism, relativism, individualism, minimalism, and a whole host of other animals ready to devour our soul. No matter how much we know about virtue, if we don’t make some of that virtue part of our personal morality we will be lost.
We have to get to the point where we understand that sometimes what is considered politically or socially acceptable might not be in the best interests of our personal morality. Sometimes this is called spiritual maturity. This type of maturity necessitates we will sometimes have to choose attitudes and behavior s that run counter to our friends, our families, and the world at large. Especially at these times, we must be firm in our personification of virtue and stand fast against the temptations to run with the pack.
On the flip side, sometimes we like to think that our personal morality can be completely separated from the common morality. A totally personalized morality is not the answer either. It can lead to sick individuals and sick societies. What will bind the community together, if not some shared personal morality of the people who make up the community?
I have my own conscience, my own convictions about what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil, what I should do and what I should avoid. This is my personal morality. For some it’s straight forward and organized, for others it’s confusing and constructive. All of us are similar in this respect, seeking our own mix of common morality and personal morality through the struggles of our daily lives.
Progress not perfection![do action=”vfquote” quote=”The true meaning of religion is thus not simply morality, but morality touched by emotion.” author=”Matthew Arnold”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Every young man would do well to remember that all successful business stands on the foundation of morality.” author=”Henry Ward Beecher”/]
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MORAL EDUCATION IN AMERICA
We are compelled, we are called, to address the problem of rebuilding the moral foundation of Americas youth. Our society struggles with finding solutions to our current moral crisis. How can we teach morality and virtue to our youth when today’s society tells us that no morality or virtue set can be validated? How in the world did we end up where we are at today? We believe that in order to fight today’s moral battle, it’s important to know where we have been, and how we got here.
To that end, we offer the following history of moral education in America.[table style=”3″]
|1650||Colonial Morality: Puritan morality is taught in the American Colonies.|
|1700||Revolutionary Christian Morality: Children are taught moral living from the Bible. Emphasis was placed on afterlife, sin, and salvation through Jesus Christ.|
|1750||Industrial Morality: The Christian virtues of colonial America are replaced with bourgeois virtues of industrial America. A new virtue set is emphasized of industry, hard work, loyalty, thrift, and individualism. We go from teaching that the benefits of living a life of virtue will be realized in heaven, to teaching that the benefits of these new “industrial virtues” will be material rewards in this present world.|
|1850||Second Great Awakening Morality: America falls back on Christian Virtues as the basis of morality. A time of great religious revival in America.|
|1900||Pre-Progressive Morality: Fueled by a collectivist-democratic spirit, this morality was based on ethical tentativeness. The beginning of moral relativity. Virtues cannot be given fixed meanings because they are relative to the particular habits of the individual. Their habits define their character. Child rearing was not about exercising authority and teaching virtue, but about nurturing the “natural” development of the child.|
|1950||Progressive Morality: Highly impacted by Benjamin Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care published in 1946. If you want your child to do what you want him to do when you want him to do it, then you must first learn to do for your child what he wants you to do when he wants you to do it. If you conform to the child’s wishes, he will conform to yours. Morality is relative to what the child wants.|
|1966||Great Society and Values Clarification Morality: Americas youth rebels against education because the curriculum doesn’t acknowledge their needs and interests. This rebellion is a backlash of “Progressive Morality” as the youth had grown up in homes where parental conformity to childish wishes was a pre-condition for the child’s conforming to parental wisdom. Morality becomes, “If it feels good, do it.” There are no right and wrong answers. “Values Clarification” rejects any morality as conformity to an external code or set of values that are established by social institutions (the man), religion, science, reason, or tradition.|
|1980||Self Esteem Morality: It was inevitable that the Great Society morality would fall out of favor with parents because it was too subjective and the effects were obvious moral decay. Enter Self Esteem morality which was based on helping young peoples psychological well being by building up (even if only artificially) their self esteem. It was believed that by building up self esteem, that moral conduct and achievement would follow. Self Esteem Morality was largely practiced by creating unearned pride about oneself as a person, such as one might experience after repeating the mantra “I am a good person” or “I am smart”, and never confronting the reality if it was true of not. This movement also contributed vastly to the creation of the “me-generation” and the entitlement that many of today’s young people feel.|
|1990||Objective Values Morality: The Self Esteem movement eventually lost steam because in reality there is no association between psychological well-being and moral conduct. Enter the Objective Values Morality. The Objective Values Morality took three distinct forms:[spacer size=”10″]Neo-Classical: Right and wrong are definitive qualities discerned by civilization over the ages. You can achieve well being by living virtuously or suffer ruin by resisting acting with virtue. Youth learn how to live virtuously through education, practicing virtue, suffering through perseverance, and by following the examples of virtuous adults.[spacer size=”10″]Communitarian: Living by the shared values of ones contemporary community. Morality by social consensus. Individual morality is developed from a healthy connection with your social community.[spacer size=”10″]Psychological: Teaching our youth objective virtues and making them conscious of right and wrong in the context of their own personal quality of life. Teaching our youth that it feels good to do the right thing. It feels good to live virtuously. When you help that little old lady across the street, it feels good.|
|2008||Socially Objective Morality: This is the current movement that we believe Virtue First is a part of. This movement is a hybrid combination of all three forms of Objective Values Morality (Neo-Classical, Communitarian, and Psychological). The foundation of Socially Objective Morality is the personification of a set of “Social Virtues” as a means of achieving the long term goals of ones life and ultimately happiness.[spacer size=”10″]These Social Virtues are:|
We live in a time when our youth have been robbed of their moral foundations and all we have left is relativism and the moral decadence it breeds. It’s time for a change. While Americans might disagree about a lot of things, including religion and morality, it seems that we are united by a basic set of “Social Virtues”. What Mother doesn’t want her son to be respectful? What Father doesn’t want his son to be courageous? Let’s use this common ground to help our youth re-construct their moral foundations.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Academe, n.: An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught. Academy, n.: A modern school where football is taught.” author=”Ambrose Bierce”/]
A Quick Note on Sexual Morality From C.S. Lewis
Sexual immorality occurs when those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the physical) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. To have a virtuous attitude about sexual morality does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again. Today our sexual instincts are horribly inflamed and distorted, even in the best of people, because of the age in which we live and the generations of sexual distortion to which we have been exposed. Suppose we treated our other urges as we do the sex urge. Imagine a country where you could fill a theater by bringing a covered plate onto the stage and slowly lifting the cover to let all see, before the lights suddenly go out, a lamb chop or a bit of bacon! Imagine the whole audience titillated by this sight of a bit of food exposed to them. Would you not think that there was something terribly wrong with their appetite for food, that it had become awfully distorted? There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying food, but there is everything to be ashamed of if food is your main interest in life and you spend your time looking at food pictures in magazines and smacking your lips and drooling over every page.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” author=”Gilbert K. Chesterton”/]
Morality is a Guide to Living
Choosing to live is a pre-moral choice, after which, the question becomes “How?” This is the same as “What do I do?” One can either go about it randomly or with a methodology designed for success. That methodology is called morality.
An explicit morality allows one to choose rationally among values. It makes the selection of values rational by providing a method to evaluate them. Values are compared to a moral standard, and prioritized according to how well they promote that standard. To make decisions easier, we develop virtues which are moral habits which tend to help gain values.
Historically, the concept of morality has often been used negatively as a list of thou shall not’s in check against ones actions. The stance taken is often that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you don’t violate any moral edicts; but the source of these moral edicts is often mystical or arbitrary.
A list of prohibitions, even if founded in reason rather than mysticism, is not a sufficient outline for success. Morality should be positive rather than negative. Not “What shouldn’t I do?” but “What should I do?”. The problem with defining morality negatively is that pretty much anything goes provided one avoids a few problem areas. This is not useful because within the sphere of pretty much anything goes, there is no methodical way to choose which action is best, whereas positive morality sets forth habits which lead to the achievement of values and methods for choosing what to value which is the way to live and thrive.
With ones own life as the standard of value, morality is not a burden to bear, but a prudent and effective guide which furthers life and success.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”In our amusements a certain limit is to be placed that we may not devote ourselves to a life of pleasure and thence fall into immorality.” author=”Cicero”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.” author=”Dombey”/]
“Morality” is an unusual word. It is not used very much, at least not without some qualification. People do sometimes talk about Christian morality, Nazi morality, or about the morality of the Greeks, but they seldom talk simply about morality all by itself. Consistent with this way of talking, many anthropologists used to claim that morality, like law, applies only within a society. They claimed that “morality” refers to that code of conduct that is put forward by a society. However, even in small homogeneous societies that have no written language, distinctions are sometimes made among morality, etiquette, law, and religion. So, even for these anthropologists “morality” does not often refer to every code of conduct put forward by a society.
Etiquette is sometimes included as a part of morality, but it applies to norms that are considered less serious than the kinds of norms for behavior that are part of morality in the basic sense. Hobbes expresses the standard view when he discusses manners. “By manners I mean not here decency of behavior, as how one man should salute another, or how a man should wash his mouth or pick his teeth before company, and such other points of small morals, but those qualities of mankind that concern their living together in peace and unity.”
Law or a legal system is distinguished from morality or a moral system by having explicit written rules, penalties, and officials who interpret the laws and apply the penalties. Although there is often considerable overlap in the conduct governed by morality and that governed by law, laws are often evaluated on moral grounds. Moral criticism is often used to support a change in the law. Some have even maintained that the interpretation of law must make use of morality.
Religion differs from morality or a moral system in that it includes stories about events in the past, usually about supernatural beings, that are used to explain or justify the behavior that it prohibits or requires. Sometimes there is no distinction made between a moral code and a code of conduct put forward by a religion, and there is often a considerable overlap in the conduct prohibited or required by religion and that prohibited or required by morality. But religions may prohibit or require more than is prohibited or required by guides to behavior that are explicitly labeled as moral guides, and may allow some behavior that is prohibited by morality. Sometimes morality is regarded as the code of conduct that is put forward by religion, but even when this is not the case, morality is thought by many to need some religious explanation and justification. However, just as with law, some religious practices and precepts are criticized on moral grounds, e.g., discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Morality is only a guide to conduct, whereas religion is always more than this.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”For morality life is a war, and the service of the highest is a sort of cosmic patriotism which also calls for volunteers.” author=”William James”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Morality without religion is only a kind of dead reckoning,–an endeavor to find our place on a cloudy sea by measuring the distance we have run, but without any observation of the heavenly bodies.” author=”Kavanagh”/]
Morality speaks of a system of behavior in regards to standards of right or wrong behavior. The word carries the concepts of:
- moral standards, with regard to behavior;
- moral responsibility, referring to our conscience; and
- a moral identity, or one who is capable of right or wrong action.
Common synonyms include ethics, principles, virtue, and goodness. Morality has become a complicated issue in the multi-cultural world we live in today. Let’s explore what morality is, how it affects our behavior, our conscience, our society, and our ultimate destiny.
Morality and Our Behavior
Morality describes the principles that govern our behavior. Without these principles in place, societies cannot survive for long. In today’s world, morality is frequently thought of as belonging to a particular religious point of view, but by definition, we see that this is not the case. Everyone adheres to a moral doctrine of some kind.
Morality as it relates to our behavior is important on three levels. Renowned thinker, scholar and author C.S. Lewis defines them as: (1) to ensure fair play and harmony between individuals; (2) to help make us good people in order to have a good society; and (3) to keep us in a good relationship with the power that created us. Based on this definition, it’s clear that our beliefs are critical to our moral behavior.
On Point 1, Professor Lewis says most reasonable people agree. By Point 2, however, we begin to see problems occurring. Consider the popular philosophy “I’m not hurting anyone but myself,” frequently used to excuse bad personal choices. How can we be the good people we need to be if we persist in making these choices, and how will that result not affect the rest of our society? Bad personal choices do hurt others. Point 3 is where most disagreement surfaces. While the majority of the world’s population believes in God, or at least in a god, the question of Creation, as a theory of origins, is definitely hotly debated in today’s society.
A recent report in Psychology Today concluded: “The most significant predictor of a person’s moral behavior may be religious commitment. People who consider themselves very religious were least likely to report deceiving their friends, having extramarital affairs, cheating on their expenses accounts, or even parking illegally.” Based on this finding, what we believe about Creation has a decided effect on our moral thinking and our behavior. Without belief in a Creator, the only option that seems to be left is to adhere to moral standards we make up for ourselves. Unless we live in a dictatorial society, we are free to choose our own personal moral code. But where does that freedom come from? The view of many who do not adhere to Creation is that morality is a creation of humanity, designed to meet the need of stable societies. All kinds of life are in a process of deciding between life and death, choosing what to do with power and/or authority. This ultimately leads to a system of virtues and values. The question is: what happens when our choices conflict with each other? What if something I believe I need in order for my life to continue results in death for you? If we do not have an absolute standard of truth, chaos and conflict will result as we are all left to our own devices and desires.
Morality and Our Conscience
Morality impacts our everyday decisions, and those choices are directed by our conscience. Again, we must decide for ourselves where the conscience originates. Many people hold to the idea that the conscience is a matter of our hearts, that concepts of right, wrong, and fairness are “programmed” in each of us.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. That is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good ;consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil.” author=”Albert Schweitzer”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Mercy to living beings, self restraint, truth, honesty, chastity and contentment, right faith and knowledge, and austerity are but the entourage of morality.” author=”Vittorio De Sila-Prabhrita”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much of life. So aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” author=”Henry David Thoreau”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”All sects are different, because they come from men; morality is everywhere the same, because it comes from God.” author=”William J. Voltaire”/]
Four Sources of Morality
1. The interpretation of passages from holy books: Moral codes are often linked to a person’s worldview: their basic beliefs about deity, humanity and the rest of the universe. Most religions have an associated system of morality. Their moral codes are often derived from the religions’ scriptures: The Torah in the case of Judaism, the Bible’s Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (aka New Testament) for Christianity, the Qur’an within Islam, etc .Moral codes come from theologians’ interpretations of these religious holy books. Their interpretations are often accepted as absolute truth by fellow believers. Unfortunately, these books contain apparent contradictions that must be harmonized. Since the interpretation of holy books is heavily influenced by culture, theologians within a given wing of a single religion often teach conflicting moral codes. The diversity of beliefs is even greater when comparing the findings of theologians from all wings of the same religion. Comparing the findings of all of the theologians from all of the world’s religions produces an enormous range of teachings which often conflict. Within Christianity, which is followed by about 70% of Americans, fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians often view the Bible as the inerrant “Word of God.”
2. Various non-theistic religious, ethical, and philosophical: These groups do not include a belief in one or more Gods or Goddesses. Examples are Confucianism, Ethical Culture, the Goth culture, Humanism, some forms of Satanism, most forms of Buddhism, etc. They have also developed unique moral codes, often specified by their founders or derived later from writing within the group. Superimposed upon this, many individuals have developed their own personal moral code, often at least partly independently of religious sources.
3. Evolutionary socio-biologists: view many human behaviors and elements of morality as having originated in primate societies among chimpanzees, bonobos, and early humans millions of years ago. According to Wikipedia, specialists in this field: “Frans de Waal and Barbara King both view human morality as having grown out of primate sociality. … According to Michael Shermer, the following characteristics are shared by humans and other social animals, particularly the great apes: ‘attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group’.
Shermer argues that these premoral sentiments evolved in primate societies as a method of restraining individual selfishness and building more cooperative groups. For any social species, the benefits of being part of an altruistic group should outweigh the benefits of individualism. For example, lack of group cohesion could make individuals more vulnerable to attack from outsiders. Being part of group may also improve the chances of finding food. This is evident among animals that hunt in packs to take down large or dangerous prey.” They see human moral codes as having evolved and adapted as human society evolved from small hunter-gathering bands about 100,000 years ago, to tribes, to chiefdoms, and finally to nations circa 2000 BCE.
4. “Science of Morality:” This is a current and very active field. It involves the application of the scientific method to the study of human cultures. The goal is to derive “moral truth” –a superior system of morality and ethics that maximizes human well being. A leading proponent of this concept is Sam Harris, author of “The End of Faith.” He advocates “a conversation about how moral truth can be understood in the context of science.” He notes that the many different moral systems which are present in various cultures today can be evaluated in terms of the level of well being that they produce in the population. The system that promotes the greatest well being is then the “true” moral system.
by R.P. Nettelhorst
Some commentators have suggested that since our ideas of human rights are strictly western concepts, it is an example of both ethnocentrism and cultural imperialism for us to insist that eastern nations – for instance China – be bound by them.
I find such an argument difficult to swallow. I simply cannot fathom the legitimacy of such “ethical diversity.”
If morality is not absolute and universal, along the lines of the laws of physics (and perhaps even, in some sense, a consequence of those laws), then I am at a loss as to how we could legitimately question the behavior of Nazi-era Germans who murdered millions of Jews. I doubt that any of those who suggest Chinese behavior is acceptable would agree that killing Jews is a good thing. Consequently, I would suggest that they don’t really believe the argument they’re making, and in fact that they haven’t thought through the implications of their suggestion.
I’ve even read some who try to excuse the treatment of Christians in China by arguing that Christianity is a foreign imposition on that ancient land and an example of western imperialism, so of course the Chinese are going to react harshly. And besides, in the past, some Christians were persecutors and oppressors.
Yet in the west, aren’t we supposed to be open to new ideas and accept cultural diversity? So it’s good for us to accept foreign ideas, but we can’t expect the Chinese to be this enlightened? Doesn’t this strike you as patronizing at its worst? Plus there’s the ethical problem of it all: the Christians somehow deserve to be persecuted because Christianity isn’t a native Chinese faith and besides, some of the Christian’s ancestors might have been bad people? I think I detect some injustice here, don’t you?
Yet, China deserves censure for its treatment of Tibet and the Dali Lama.
I would agree that it does, but I’m mightily annoyed at the inconsistency and shallow thinking evidenced by certain pundits who will decry the treatment of one group at the same time they accept the persecution of another, simply because one group seems more “deserving” than another.
Frankly, if one group is being persecuted, it might as well be me being persecuted. If I don’t think that way, then I run the risk of falling into the trap attributed to Martin Niemoeller:
“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up. “[do action=”vfquote” quote=”We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practice, and another which we practice but seldom preach.” author=”Bertrand Russell”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”I have often thought morality may perhaps consist solely in the courage of making a choice.” author=”Leon Blum”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. That is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil. ” author=”Albert Schweitzer”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”I have never believed there was one code of morality for a public and another for a private man.” author=”Thomas Jefferson”/]
Do We Have a Built-In Moral Compass?
by Gina Stepp
In a note to a group of young people, Mark Twain once advised, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
The thought of astonishing people is certainly appealing, yet we need at least a general idea of how to define “right” before we can do it. How do we determine what is right? It’s not as easy as it sounds, despite the fact that there’s a vast field of study devoted to the topic which is described using terms like “ethics,” or “moral philosophy.” However, countless philosophers writing shelves full of books over interminable millennia could hardly improve on the age-old dogma “treat others as you want to be treated.” Albert Schweitzer rephrased it this way: “A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives.”
But why should we even be interested in opening the question? Why not just leave the discussion of ethics and morality to philosophers and theologians?
Despite the fact that religion and morality are sometimes treated as interchangeable ideas, moral standards are important whether one believes in a higher power or not. Certain standards of behavior are necessary to make society work and establish the basis by which human beings can relate to each other safely and comfortably. If ethical lines shift according to whim, others are unable to anticipate our responses or predict our stance on any issue. We all have a strong desire to know where we “stand” in relation to others. Do they care about us? Do we care about them? How do we know whether our relationships can be relied upon? Generally, we know “where we stand” with others based on their treatment of us and their responses to our actions. We have the best relationships with those people we feel certain will react more or less as we expect. Since we know this works both ways, we strive to be reliable as well; to treat others with the same regard and respect that we expect them to extend to us.
In his book The Moral Sense modern philosopher and educator James Q. Wilson argues that there are ethical “inclinations” that are common to almost all people. Although he cautions that “this doesn’t mean we have found a set of moral rules,” he also believes that most of us try to keep society’s laws out of higher concerns than merely a fear of retribution. He notes that some valued human characteristics include, “a sense of duty, a desire to please, a belief in fairness, and sympathy for the plight of others.”
Discoveries in neuroscience over the past decade suggest that there might even be something of this sort hard-wired in our brains. “Mirror neurons” have created quite a stir since their discovery by Italian scientists in the 90s, and subsequent studies have yielded fascinating implications. Certain areas of the brain are activated not only when we perform an action ourselves, but also when we watch the same action being performed by others. Many scientists are convinced that they have located the seat of our brain’s ability to internally simulate the experiences of others. As the European Science Foundation puts it, “Today, mirror neurons play a major explanatory role in the understanding of a number of human features, from imitation to empathy.”
Empathy, of course, is part of what allows us to “treat others as we want to be treated.” But acting on that empathy often requires another almost universally respected trait: self-control.
“It is a remarkable characteristic of human society that most of the things that are best for us—that is, most likely to produce genuine and enduring happiness—require us to forgo some immediate pleasure,” says Wilson. But he also points out the curious circumstance that scholars often overlook this point. “Many of the leading books on the development of morality in children make no reference to self-control or impulsivity, though they discuss at great length empathy and altruism.”
This is especially strange when one considers the ways that empathy and self-control are linked. Researchers have found evidence that both have their biological centers in related areas of the brain—and both are also affected either positively or negatively depending on the quality of caregiving relationships in childhood. In other words, there is both nature and nurture involved in these traits that seem so basic to human morality. Just as the brain centers responsible for empathy and self-control are enlarged and strengthened by good quality relationships, our moral identity is enlarged by these same relationships as those who love and care for us set appropriate behavioral boundaries and teach the less innate, finer points of responsible character.
Though Wilson wrote The Moral Sense just three years before mirror neurons were discovered, it now appears that perhaps we really do have that small kernel of an innate moral sense, as Wilson contends. If so, it would seem to weaken the arguments for moral relativism and to elevate words like “values” and “ethics” to a status somewhat higher than “tastes” or “preferences.” This is a crucial ethical distinction. Among other things it allows us to see modern examples of man’s inhumanity to man as the horrors they are—as betrayals of humanity—rather than as merely a particular culture’s chosen practices to be left to develop as they will.
And though on its own it may not give us all the answers, our human moral sense, imperfect as it is, should at least compel us to go about our lives bearing standards founded on empathy and concern for others.
As for John Q. Wilson, in a still, small voice, he concludes his book with the words, “Mankind’s moral sense is not a strong beacon light, radiating outward to illuminate in sharp outline all that it touches. It is, rather, a small candle flame, casting vague and multiple shadows, flickering and sputtering in the strong winds of power and passion, greed and ideology. But brought close to the heart and cupped in one’s hands, it dispels the darkness and warms the soul.”[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Social confusion has now reached a point at which the pursuit of immorality turns out to be more exhausting than compliance with the old moral codes.” author=”Denis de Rougemont”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Immorality: the morality of those who are having a better time.” author=”H. L. Mencken”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”By a peculiar prerogative, not only each individual is making daily advances in the sciences, and may makes advances in morality, but all mankind together are making a continual progress in proportion as the universe grows older; so that the whole human race, during the course of so many ages, may be considered as one man, who never ceases to live and learn.” author=”Blaise Pascal”/]
The Future Of Business Is Morality, And The Future Is Now
By Scott Annan
My grandfather, Monroe, taught me the importance of relationships in business. As a young boy I recall proudly watching him interact with everyone from his employees, peers and colleagues to waiters, gas station attendants and casual acquaintances.
He always put the other person first. He genuinely cared about people – making sure he learned a few words in as many different languages as possible to facilitate the exchange of pleasantries across multiple backgrounds. He made people feel important and welcome because to him they were. While he was a consummate businessman, his paradigm was relationships; profit was secondary.
All of my most meaningful accomplishments in business have followed my grandfather’s example – from meaningful relationships. And many of these relationships formed far before I ever filed an LLC or sold my first product. It’s therefore important to think about ways to connect with people whose careers or personal merits you take an interest in and from whom you stand something valuable to learn. I sought out mentors early on in my life, many of whom were very receptive to my interest in them. And from my appreciation for their careers and contributions, they often offered advice and became ambassadors of my career and professional pursuits. Relationships matter, and it’s never too early to begin establishing meaningful ones simply by caring. You are only as strong as the customers that are supporting your product or service and the timeline of their relationship with you. Businesses have varying ways of measuring this: lifetime value of a customer, cost of customer acquisition, and average purchase price. But, as I learned from my grandfather first, and then from my own interactions, the metric that often matters most is caring. How much do you care about your customers and what are you willing to do to serve your customers in ways that make them want to do business with you – and keep coming back?
We have reached a point in our economy where it is becoming increasingly clear that businesses are being measured not just for their profit, but also for their impact. And I’m not just talking about writing a check or funding a charity; I’m referring to business models for which community involvement and inspirational brand building are the profit centers. (Think Warby Parker, TOMS, and startups such as SOMA.) I recently went to a conference where the founders of a startup posited a powerful idea: the future of marketing is philanthropy. But I think the even bigger idea is the future of business is morality. My grandfather saw this early on.
At a time when the moral framework of America appears to be fractured – or at the very least confused – businesses are in the propitious position to espouse cultural standards that can help restore values that our youth can use to build the next generation of positive enterprise. In fact, whether businesses succeed in creating and promoting positive cultures might determine whether they stay in business at all. The future of business is morality, and the future is now.
Whether it’s the job of the corporation or not to set the moral tone for society, the expectation is trending towards companies setting the right example for others to follow. With the sharp rise in entrepreneurship, young companies have the opportunity to establish strong cultures early on and share them with their communities. Money must have a moral center, and from greater consciousness in business, greater profit will follow. As I wrote in my book AIMbitious, money is fungible – that is to say, a dollar can go towards buying a pack of gum, a car, a bottle of water, or towards investing in education. It is not the dollar that is different in each case, but rather the value that the “owner” of that dollar places on what it can purchase – and concomitantly what she chooses to purchase. A dollar is merely a storer of value – it retains value for its owner to allow her to purchase something of value at a point in time. We need more enlightened dollars by building an economy with a greater conscience; investing in education, mentorship, and sustainability.
We have become inured to accept a business culture that puts profit above all else. I sense this will change. We won’t have a choice. Disasters of the natural and human form will compel us to modify our behavior. Sole focus on profit will bankrupt us. Focusing on the customer, on meaningful relationships, and on giving back all with an eye on scalable margin will create enduring businesses and brands that will not only appreciate in value over time, but that will also inspire a more enlightened business culture.
It’s a culture that my grandfather established in his business and one that if he were asked to sit on the board of creating for a new economy would offer a simple piece of advice: care about others. Care as much as you can.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Men are more accountable for their motives, than for anything else; and primarily, morality consists in the motives, that is in the affections.” author=”Archibald Alexander”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.” author=”Henry David Thoreau”/]
Legislating Morality-Why have political attempts to change America’s moral climate fail?
By Bob Rodjaz
American democracy and the capitalist model have been the source of inspiration for much of this widespread change. James Q. Wilson, professor of public policy at Southern California’s Pepperdine University, writes: “Today we wonder whether the whole world might become democratic. Acting on the belief that it can, our government has bent its energies toward encouraging the birth or growth of democracy in places around the globe from Haiti to Russia, from Kosovo to the People’s Republic of China” (“Democracy for All?” Commentary, March 2000).
Along with democracy, however, America also exports its culture. And that culture is in a state of moral decline, as a number of observers have pointed out.
Robert H. Bork, former acting U.S. Attorney General, in his book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, writes: “American culture is complex and resilient. But it is also not to be denied that there are aspects of almost every branch of our culture that are worse than ever before and that the rot is spreading.”
James Davison Hunter, professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Virginia and director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, points out that although “American culture has always been in flux,” since about the middle of the 20th century there has been growing confusion over such basic issues as the meaning of family, “family values,” how to raise children, the meaning of life, and the rules for living an honorable life. “Where a consensus remains in our moral culture,” he states, “it does so only in terms of the shallowest of platitudes.”
Hunter contends that “the changes that have occurred are not just cultural. They have been accompanied by profound changes in the social environment in which children grow up. The increases in family instability, the absence of the father from children’s lives, the number of hours children are left alone and unsupervised by adults, and the role of television and other electronic media of popular culture have all been well documented”.
Tony Bouza, former head of police departments in Minneapolis and New York’s Bronx, questions whether the current values of American culture are any different than those that typified the Roman Empire before its fall.
He declares: “If we [Americans] can see the decline of [America’s] families and cities and remain smugly confident of our inviolability, if we can witness the corruption of high figures and be blind to their connection to our prospects, if we can watch the loss of faith and remain secure in our confidence of salvation, and if we can sense the general moral decline yet think we will survive, then we can assert that we remain happy, dancing, singing, drinking passengers on the Titanic” (The Decline and Fall of the American Empire, 1996).
But what about all the other nations that seek the American way? Does America’s exported democracy carry with it a culture that threatens to destroy the moral fiber of those nations that embrace it? Or can that same democracy offer the solution to the problem?
Increasingly in the last few decades, individuals and groups in the United States began calling for what came to be referred to as “civil society.” Not least among them were Christian fundamentalist and evangelical communities, who felt they should attempt to stem the tide of America’s disturbing moral decay.
The roots of American fundamentalism actually lie in the late 19th century, when time-honored assumptions about biblical truth were challenged. Fundamentalism, though not known as such until well into the 20th century, was essentially a reaction to the gradually decreasing influence of religion in American society after the religious surge brought on by 19th-century revivalism; those clergymen who cried out for a return to what they saw as Christian fundamentals came to be called fundamentalists.
Their concerns were understandable. After the American Civil War, higher criticism of the Bible cropped up in many seminaries and called into question traditional views of biblical accuracy and authority. Darwinism and the new geology won rapid acceptance in scientific and educational circles and made people doubt long-established views of creation. Many American Protestants welcomed higher criticism and evolutionary thought and sought to modernize doctrine. Others developed a “social gospel,” which tended to emphasize saving society over saving souls.
NEW AND IMPROVED
After World War II, a number of younger fundamentalists, uncomfortable with what had happened to their movement, created a new brand of fundamentalism that engaged modern thought, produced many para-church organizations and involved itself more in the world’s affairs.
It was out of this background that Jerry Falwell, Baptist pastor and television evangelist, founded the Moral Majority. The conservative political group was created in 1979 to root out secular humanism and restore Judeo-Christian morality in society. Its aim was to educate and mobilize conservative citizens (mostly Christian) to elect moral candidates to office; to eliminate abortion and pornography; and to influence a wide range of public policies through lobbying offices in Washington, D.C.—in other words, to legislate morality and so bring about cultural renewal within American society. Democracy itself, they believed, held the solution to the nation’s cultural and moral problems.
The Moral Majority’s platform included support of a human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prayer in public schools, stricter limits on pornography, free-enterprise economics, and the death penalty.
The Moral Majority, in the opinion of analysts, never became a major factor in election outcomes. It did keep issues such as abortion and school prayer on the congressional agenda, but without much success. Media coverage was extensive but mostly unfavorable, and the organization drew vehement criticism from liberals, who objected to its efforts to legislate a sectarian morality. In 1989, Falwell announced the dissolution of the group, claiming that it had successfully helped establish the Religious Right—a movement that largely espoused the same views.
In that same year, Pat Robertson, founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, founded the grassroots Christian Coalition. Its aim, according to Robertson, was “to give Christians a voice in government” and “to fight to bring issues of morality, family values and individual responsibility to the forefront” in the political process.
Only 10 years later, in the face of little significant change and bitter organizational setbacks, fundamentalist history tried to repeat itself.
On April 9, 1999, in a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Fight or Flight: Is Politics Bad for the Soul? Conservative Christians Begin to Wonder,” commentator Fred Barnes wrote: “It’s been two decades since religious conservatives banded together as a major force in national politics. Almost immediately, they became a magnet for controversy, and over the years the attacks, mostly from the political left, haven’t let up. The basic charge has been that their flagship groups, first the Moral Majority, then the Christian Coalition, have commandeered the Republican Party and turned it into a vehicle for imposing theologically conservative religious views on the rest of America. . . .
“Now there’s a fresh and very different line of criticism, coming from inside the world of conservative Christians. In their new book, Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? [syndicated columnist] Cal Thomas and [pastor] Ed Dobson describe the Christian political movement as a paper tiger. After 20 years, they insist, religious conservatives have nothing to show for all their intense effort. Their fondest dream has been to change the culture, but ‘the moral landscape of America has become worse,’ Mr. Thomas says. . . . What’s worse, politics has become a ‘false god’ for many Christian activists. . . . Messrs. Thomas and Dobson urge Christians to give up organized politics and get back to church work.”
On the heels of the unsuccessful political attempt to remove former American president Bill Clinton, Paul Weyrich, president of a research and education organization called the Free Congress Foundation and one of the founders of the Religious Right, echoed some of these criticisms.
As reported by Barnes, “Mr. Weyrich doesn’t urge Christians to drop out of politics altogether, but in a widely circulated letter [dated February 16, 1999] he bemoaned the failure to oust President Clinton. He concluded that the culture can’t be changed through politics.” In that letter Weyrich lamented: “I believe that we probably have lost the culture war. . . . Even when we win in politics, our victories fail to translate into the kind of policies we believe are important.”
Weyrich’s widely publicized views sent shock waves that reverberated both inside and outside the movement. While some reacted negatively, others admitted that, though some cultural changes have occurred, many problems and obstacles may be insurmountable.
From where, then, will the solution come? Ultimately, can morality be legislated? What is required to morally transform a culture gone wrong?
Hunter, in The Death of Character, points out that “so much of what we think of as ‘innate’ in our moral sensibilities . . . derives mainly from cultural resources that are dwindling. . . . Law and consensus . . . and all of America’s extraordinary wealth—individually or combined—cannot replenish them. Neither can the political thunderings of the Christian Right.”
“Religious conservatives,” add Thomas and Dobson, “no matter how well organized, can’t save America.
A CHANGE OF HEART
The reality is that no system of government can force morality on its citizenry. Cultural renewal requires more than the passage of a set of laws demanding morality. It requires that people—individually and collectively—want to be moral.
The words of two widely separated individuals, Cal Thomas and the former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, strike at the heart of the matter. Thomas writes, “When a building’s foundation is in disrepair, it must be replaced. This will take a change of heart and mind that requires different behavior and lifestyle choices. No politician can legislate that.” Sadat wrote in his autobiography, “He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality.” The most vital key to ultimately creating a truly reformed culture is the change that will have to occur within the “very fabric” of people’s thoughts.
While activists and legislators strive to reform a culture through the politics of democracy and self-determination, the real solution lies in creating virtuous family-like cultures on a worldwide scale.
That day is coming.[do action=”vfquote” quote=”I say that a man must be certain of his morality for the simple reason that he has to suffer for it. ” author=”G. K. Chesterton”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The true meaning of religion is thus not simply morality, but morality touched by emotion.” author=”Matthew Arnold”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”All sects are different, because they come from men; morality is everywhere the same, because it comes from God.” author=”Voltaire”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Compassion is the basis of all morality.” author=”Arthur Schopenhauer”/]
MORAL DEVELOPMENT IN TEENS
By Rose Welton
The teenage years are an intense and critical time for moral development. A teenager is finding his or her own identity by discovering who he or she is and changing into an adult. Although teens may want a lot of independence and freedom at this age, they still need guidance. To help teens develop morally, it is important to understand how their brains work and know how to foster good moral behavior.
Although a common teenage stereotype involves rebellion, Kids Health states most teenagers are not rebellious. At this age, a teenager is trying to think rationally and become more independent. She is interested in what is right and is forming her morals and conscience. Medline Plus states teenagers question old values during their teen years, which can cause them to try different points of view.
A teenager still thinks in an abstract way and can be more impulsive than an adult. This can affect his moral development, especially if he experiences the indestructible feelings common with teenagers. For example, rather than slow down and obey the speed limit, he might feel as though no consequences will result from him speeding up. At this age, his impulsiveness can prevent him from making decisions based on moral responsibility.
The relationships your teenager has are very important for her moral development. PBS.org states teens who have close relationships with their parents don’t experiment with risky behaviors as much as other teens. A teenager most likely finds her peer group very important at this age and may seek the approval of her friends. They are more likely to misread emotions or get into accidents or fights.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the brain of a teenager continues to develop all the way into adulthood. The amygdala, the section of the brain that controls instincts, develops first. The frontal cortex, which is responsible for reasoning and determines how we act, develops later and continues to develop into adulthood. Because of this, a teenager is guided less by the frontal cortex and may not have a full understanding of moral behavior.
To encourage moral development in your teenager, give him space to make some decisions himself. It may be more difficult for him to act morally, but it is still possible with guidance from parents, teachers and other role models. Talk to him about the dangers of sex, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes before he is exposed to the temptations, and make sure he is aware of your rules and expectations.